Last flask of fuel leaves Chapelcross

The last consignment of spent nuclear fuel has left Chapelcross site for reprocessing at Sellafield, marking the completion of a four-year programme to deal with more than 38,000 individual fuel elements.

The milestone achievement means that 99% of radioactivity has been removed from Scotland’s oldest nuclear power plant following its closure in 2004.

And thanks to innovations inspired by the British Cycling Team’s ‘Marginal Gains Concept’, the workforce also hit their target defueling date four months ahead of schedule.

Following verification work over the next few months, the site will be declared completely free of fuel for the first time in more than 50 years.

Magnox Managing Director, Neil Baldwin said, “This is a tremendous achievement for the site and across the company. We have safely defueled the four reactors at Chapelcross early, significantly reducing the hazards on site.

“Critical to the success of the project has been the commitment and dedication of the skilled workforce at Chapelcross, who have been instrumental in delivering this challenging project.”

Since generation stopped, various decommissioning work has been undertaken at Chapelcross – including the high profile demolition of the landmark cooling towers in May 2007.

A major piece of work was carried out before defueling could get underway, including the design, manufacture, installation and commissioning of a £30M upgrade to the plant. Following formal permission to start defueling from the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) in July 2008, the first flask of fuel left the site in April 2009, and over the next four years 38,075 fuel elements in 257 flask shipments have been systematically and safely removed from all four reactors.

Under the current Magnox Operating Plan (MOP), the site was originally set a target to complete defueling by June 2013. Progress steadily increased in the first three years of the project, with 30 flasks despatched to Sellafield in 2009/10, 51 flasks in 2010/11 and 73 flasks in 2011/12.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which owns Chapelcross, issued Magnox the challenge of safely removing all the spent nuclear fuel from the site by March 2013, encouraging faster hazard reduction. To meet this target, an innovative approach – based on the ‘Marginal Gains Concept’ – w s implemented across the site’s defueling operations. This resulted in a 50% increase in flask despatches from the previous year as 103 flasks were sent to Sellafield in 2012/13.

In the last year, all four reactors been completely defueled, beating the original target of June 2013 by 4 months and the revised NDA target of March 2013 – six weeks ahead of schedule.

Mark Lesinski, NDA Chief Operating Officer said, “This is a huge achievement for Chapelcross and for the decommissioning and clean-up programme in the UK. I have been extremely impressed by the energy and commitment with which Magnox has risen to the challenge and I pay tribute to the workforce at Chapelcross.”

John Grierson, Chapelcross Site Director said, “To achieve this extremely challenging target required applying the highly successful ‘Marginal Gain Concept’ – which principally involves improving every step within a process by at least 1% – which will get you significant improvement overall when you add them altogether.

“With defueling, a significant number of improvements were implemented to workforce practices, equipment modification, new technology enhancements that improved reliability and availability of equipment.

“I am very proud that the site achieved the target, which demonstrates the dedication, commitment and professionalism of the Chapelcross workforce.”

Once fuel free status is verified in the next few months, Chapelcross will move to a new post-defueling structure, scheduled for September 2013, as work continues on various decommissioning projects until the site prepares to enter into interim care and maintenance in 2017.